Omicron, the latest COVID-19 variant, is putting parents, educators, policymakers, business owners - and just about everyone on edge. The reason? It is significantly more transmissible than the prior variants. However, as healthcare administrators and managers, and other professionals that provide clinical care and contribute to public health, a greater fear abounds - staffing shortages.
At the moment, nearly every aspect of the U.S. healthcare system is overtaxed. The nursing shortage is at an all-time high. If the hospitals become overtaxed again this time due to Omicron, it could be the final blow for many healthcare facilities throughout the nation.
Background on the Shortage of Healthcare Workers
Shortages of nurses and other healthcare personnel started decades back. In fact, as early as the 1900s, nurses were in short supply as the healthcare industry began to grow with the adaptation of new medicines, treatments, etc. Hospitals sprung up all over the nation, and there were not enough skilled clinical personnel to fill the need.
Thus, many nurses and other clinicians worked long hours and under often cruel or inhumane conditions/expectations, especially during the 1930s. The laws that came about in the 1940s put limits on the number of hours worked and the conditions under such. However, this only furthered the demand as hospitals could no longer work their employees consecutive shifts, sometimes even days.
During the 1980s, the nursing shortage only worsened which brought about the introduction of travel nurses to the world. The demand has continually grown since then and has branched out to all healthcare professionals. Read more about how the shortage of nurses increases opportunities for high-paying RN, LPN, and CNA jobs.
Pandemic Kicked Off a Domino Effect
Basically, the healthcare industry was already short-staffed on professionals such as registered nurses (RNs), licensed practical nurses (LPNs), and certified nursing assistants (CNAs). But the list didn’t end there. Pre-pandemic, the healthcare system was already stretched thin with shortages on everything from operating room staff, basic medication, personal protective equipment (PPE), orderlies, allied healthcare professionals, and even cooks for the nursing homes.
Catastrophic shortages occurred, even despite the federal support given to the healthcare systems. Each one of these nurses, CNAs, and other allied health professionals are vital to the delivery of safe patient care. These considerations are particularly important when you are dealing with patients who are critically ill, trauma patients, those with behavioral health issues, surgical emergencies, nursing home patients, fragile diabetics - and that’s just to name a few.
Multiple Factors Contribute to the Healthcare Staffing Shortage
- Supply chain issues account for many reasons why the equipment needed is not reaching the facilities in time. With holidays and a shortage of delivery drivers as well, some items are simply not reaching their destination on time.
- Insufficient funds. Community and rural hospitals have been financially struggling for years. Early in the pandemic, elective surgeries were canceled to ensure there was adequate nursing staff along with the beds, ventilators, and masks to treat COVID-19 patients. This decision was essential, yet still had devastating effects on the small and rural hospitals that relied on those services to keep their doors open.
- More money has been spent than ever before on PPE.
- Due to burnout, stress, vaccine mandates, and a plethora of issues facing the healthcare industry, a great resignation of clinicians from nurses to all allied staff has been ongoing. Now, hospitals and healthcare centers cannot keep their staff, and they are spending more on healthcare staffing agencies.
What’s On the Horizon For Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities?
Hospitals and healthcare facilities across the nation are doing everything they can to keep up safe staffing standards. As the demand for nurses and allied health professionals increases, so does the cost it takes to retain them or get them to show up on a per diem (as needed) or temporary basis. It’s worth the extra expenses to provide care, but this model is not sustainable for facilities long-term.
As the number of COVID-19 cases rises, many hospitals are pausing elective procedures and non-emergent surgical cases. Truly, it’s not because of COVID-19, rather the lack of staff to run at full capacity.
A backlog effect occurs as hospitals are struggling to find open beds in nursing homes to transfer patients to. Therefore, emergency room patients who require a room cannot be admitted to the hospital as the beds are often full.
Doctors, Nurses, and Patients Lose
Physicians, nurses, and nursing assistants are being pushed to the limits, which inhibits their ability to provide timely care. This doesn’t sit well with family members who vent their frustrations to these clinicians. What’s the outcome? Everyone loses, and everyone is hurt. And the clinicians, well frankly, they are burned out.
Patients are suffering due to the shortages. The surgeries that are put on pause are not all elective surgeries. It’s not like waiting on a nose job. Truth is, there are patients that need joint replacement surgeries, gallbladder removals, colonoscopies, and other surgical procedures that impact their quality of life. Therefore, they either remain sick and unable to live to their optimal ability or flood the emergency departments with repeated visits for these critical issues that could have been dealt with before it became an emergency.
Cancellations and lack of income for these services will impact the healthcare facilities’ ability to pay for basic services - which may lead to the closure of units at first, and then entire hospitals.
Now, the Omicron Variant has Arrived
Hospitals and healthcare systems are struggling to hold on and the new variant has just arrived. Data is still being gathered to understand how to respond to this new twist in the course of events.
The importance of public health preparedness has never been more obvious until now. On top of the COVID-related deaths, this pandemic has also increased opioid overdoses, suicides (especially in teens), firearm injuries, and it’s worsened the health inequities and decimated entire communities.
Healthcare Workers Are the Glue That Holds Everything Together
Day or night, healthcare workers are the ones facing these issues and keeping everything running. Is your hospital, healthcare facility, skilled nursing center, or home health company prepared with adequate and safe staffing ratios? Use an easy healthcare staffing app to get the clinicians you need. Download NursaTM today to source local licensed professionals looking to work with facilities nearby.